At this point in the Gospel accounts it is Passover time, a year before Jesus' crucifixion and death. While the Apostles were on their missionary tour Jesus received news of the Baptist's death. The Galilean ministry was coming to a close. He and His disciples had been working very hard. There was much excitement about Jesus. But much of it was just plain curiosity, not faith.
Next week's Gospel is the feeding of the 5,000. Look at John 6:14-15. How did the people react to the miracle of the feeding? They wanted to make Him king. How did they treat Him on the day following that miracle? All but the Apostles left Him.
Fahling: The quiet rest which Jesus had planned was spoiled. The sad feature of it was that it was not a Savior-seeking, but a miracle-seeking crowd.
Kretzmann: Curiosity, for the most part; what an immense factor in the destiny of individuals and of nations!
Stoeckhardt: Through the preaching of Christ and the preaching about Christ everywhere in the land many disciples were won. But the majority of the people had hardened themselves against the Word and Work of Christ.
What is truly remarkable, in view of these facts, is the tender compassion of Jesus toward the masses. His heart went out to them. "They were as sheep which have no shepherd." Sheep are very dependent animals. They need constant guidance. If they do not receive guidance, they wander aimlessly. These masses of people were spiritually starved. Read Ezekiel 34:1-6 and John 10:7-15. The rabbis had not fed the people's souls. And,though these people would reject Jesus the next day, John 6, He compassionately taught them many things.
Compare the parallel accounts in Matthew 14:13-14 and Luke 9:10-11. Much of the material in Mark 6:30-31 and 34 is peculiar to Mark. If Matthew or Luke "copied" or "redacted" Mark, why did they omit these materials? By the way, the parallel accounts in the Synoptics beautifully supplement each other.
Only here in mark are the twelve called Apostles. It is fitting for their first missionary tour. They freely and willingly tell Him everything. They must have worked very hard. They did and taught.
The death of John the Baptist and the strenuous work of the Apostles caused Jesus to say what He did here. Jesus' command reads literally: "Come you yourselves privately to an uninhabited place and rest a while." This plainly indicates that they had been working hard and also the true humanity of Jesus. Though Jesus tells them to rest, it is of short duration. Whether the rest was limited to the voyage or shortly thereafter, it was not long.
This is the sole place in the Gospels where this idea occurs. And the only other place where "rest from labors" is mentioned is Revelation 14:13, in heaven. Christians get little rest in this life. Many people in our culture are preoccupied with leisure and it often leads to a lot of unhappiness.
"They" are Jesus and the Apostles. They were looking for a solitary place.
From the parallel at Luke 9:10 we learn that Jesus and His disciples were headed for Bethsaida which was evidently on the eastern shore of the lake.
Underlying verses 31 and 33 is the great hunger of these people, spiritual hunger. It is true that they are curious. but if their spiritual needs would be satisfied they would no longer run around as sheep without a shepherd.
Note that Jesus does not become impatient or disgusted with them.
The expression "from all the towns" is quite strong. It likely means that they came in large numbers as we shall see in next Sunday's text.
KJV and NKJV read: "They arrived before them and came together to Him." All of the versions say the subject is the people who got there ahead of Jesus and the Apostles.
Lenski and Hendriksen disagree. They say that Jesus and the Apostles got there before the people. Our translations, in verse 34, say Jesus "landed," getting out of the boat. But Lenski and Hendriksen insist that the Greek word means that Jesus and the Apostles were coming down from the hill after a brief rest, having arrived there before the crowds. They do this to avoid a contradiction with Matthew 14:13-14; Luke 9:11 and John 6:3.
The distance around the northern part of the lake was about ten miles. The distance by boat, straight across, was about four miles. The comparative distance adds fuel to Lenski and Hendriksen's argument. But if there was little wind for the boat and in view of the intense desire of the people to see Jesus, perhaps it is not too unthinkable for the people to cover ten miles while the boat covered only four. Furthermore, this indicates that the Apostles did get the rest which Jesus desired for them. Perhaps Jesus made sure that the boat proceeded slowly so that there would be time for rest. And yet, the "uninhabited place" might well have been the middle of the lake.
Those who see the people arriving first, see Jesus getting out of the boat to greet them. Those who see Jesus and the Apostles arriving first, going up the hill, resting, then see Jesus and the Apostles coming down to greet the people.
The word used for "compassion" is always used of God and his great compassion for sinner.
Without a shepherd sheep are lost and are vulnerable. The lives of these people were aimless and exposed to paganism and false teaching.
Bengel: He began afresh, as if He had not taught them previously. There is need of real compassion to enable one to teach; and compassion is the virtue of a good teacher.
Jesus gave them thorough instruction. We learn from the next pericope what Jesus taught them.
Fahling: The sad feature of it was that it was not a Savior-seeking, but a miracle-seeking crowd. (This is brought out in the Johannine account.)
Stoeckhardt: Through the preaching of Christ and the preaching about Christ everywhere in the land many disciples were won. But the majority of the people hardened themselves against the Word and Work of Christ.
Ylvisaker: The Synoptists call attention to the fact that Jesus first provides for their spiritual needs.
Fahling: When Jesus came out and saw so many people, the vision of Ezekiel flashed into his mind, Ezekiel 34:1-15; Numbers 27:17.
Kretzmann: In all the synagogues of Galilee there were rabbis and scribes, but the food which they supplied to their congregations was a diluted pap and treacle of matter which the Jerusalem schools were teaching the young theologians. The people were in a state of greatest spiritual neglect. And so the great friend of sinners forgot His own weariness, His urgent need of rest, and He began a long sermon to them, He taught them many things, things that pertained to their salvation.
Lenski: Mark notes the main part of this shepherding 'he began to teach them many things.' Luke is more specific 'he spoke unto them of the kingdom of God.' Matthew and Luke add that he healed the sick 'the strengthless one' (Matthew), 'them that had need of healing' (Luke) . . . Jesus had a few hours to himself before He was compelled to meet the crowd.